To put it simply, the Harry Potter novels are my all time favourite books, and always will be. JK Rowling is my favourite author and always will be. The reasons for both of these statements are a little hard to explain, but I will do the best that I can.
My first encounter with Harry Potter was with the first book when I was four years old. My brother read a piece of it to me, and I liked it so much that I worked towards being able to read it on my own. I did so about a year later, when I was 5/6. Ever since then I’ve been engrossed with Harry Potter, and I own all 7 books, including 3 tie-in books, all the movies and other paraphernalia. As a story, the Harry Potter novels are extremely well-written. But beyond that, these novels contain some important lessons, ones that everyone should learn in their lives (the earlier the better). For me…the deciding reason has to be that I grew up with Harry Potter. As I said, I was four when it all started for me, and I am 19 now, turning 20 late this year. Basically, for as long as I can remember Harry Potter has been a part of my life. This series was what made me love reading, and has in effect shaped who I am. The novels carried me through my childhood and straight to high school, and the final movie came the summer before I was heading off to university (the perfect time).
The point of all of this is because I heard many months ago that JK Rowling was in the process of writing a novel for adults, entitled The Casual Vacancy. I pre-ordered the novel and finally over this past Christmas break I read it.
I went in this almost completely blind. I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like Harry Potter, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much different it was. The writing was great and the style allowed for Rowling to give each character their own unique voice/accent. The difference between Krystal Weedon’s voice (along with her mother’s and those in that neighbourhood) and the others is quite stark, but it is used in an effective fashion.
Beyond the unique voice/accent of each character, the third-person narrative flitting in between characters in The Casual Vacancy allows for the reader to gain an insight into each characters minds and allows them to fully understand why each character acts the way that they do.
The story itself is clearly a major departure from Harry Potter for Rowling. The Casual Vacancy is set in a small British town, and centers around the death of Barry Fairbrother, a man who served on the parish city council. The novel examines the effects of his death on the townspeople, including his wife and kids, other council members, and various teenagers. An array of conflicts are revealed as a result of his death, including those between teenagers and their parents, a family’s struggle with social workers, marriages that aren’t what they seem to be, and more.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with The Casual Vacancy and I plan to continue buying JK Rowling’s novels, regardless of whether or not they are related to Harry Potter. This woman has a lot of courage; she could have easily published this under another name, and though she would have undoubtedly sold less, Rowling would not have faced the criticism that she has so far. This criticism is entirely unfounded in my opinion. But I understand why it has appeared: some people went into this expecting Harry Potter and because of the drastic differences the book didn’t live up to their expectations. If you go into it like I did, understanding that it wasn’t going to be Harry Potter, I think that the book ends up being much better.
The final thing I would like to mention though, and perhaps I read into this too much, is that I feel that JK Rowling had a couple nods to her Harry Potter fan-base within The Casual Vacancy. First, the main character’s name was Barry. Second, and you find this out on the first page, Barry and his wife are celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the epilogue is set “19 Years Later”. Finally, The Casual Vacancy is split into seven different parts, and as well all know from Harry Potter, seven is the most magical number. There were seven Harry Potter novels, seven years spent at Hogwarts for the average student, and Lord Voldemort intended to make 6 Horcruxes (and when you included the final part of his soul that still resided in his body, that would make 7).
Somehow, I don’t think that these are coincidences.